“Hallelujah.” This is one of my favorite words. Short for hallelu-yahweh, it literally means “Praise Yahweh,” or “Praise the Lord.” The word itself is musical. It naturally lends itself to singing, whether through simple chanting, structured song, or free improvisation. And when I sing only this word, it gives me the freedom to set my thoughts aside, entering into a meditative state of gratitude.

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” (Psalm 150:6) To “praise the Lord” is to celebrate life—to say “Thank you!” for everything. While it’s wonderful to be thankful for specific things, we can also adopt a general state of gratitude, where any given breath can be a reminder of the gift of life that continues to sustain us. Far from being a duty or chore, the practice of gratitude opens us up to more and more of what life has to offer.

“But what if I don’t feel grateful? What if my circumstances make me feel anything but grateful?” The good news here is that you still have a choice, even if it doesn’t seem like you do. “Hallelujah” is not just a response (“Thank you, God!”), it is also a command—to yourself. “Praise the Lord, O my soul; all that is within me, praise his holy name.” (Psalm 103:1) It’s an active decision of the mind based on the knowledge—or if not yet the knowledge, the faith—that you have the power to impact your own experience. It’s choosing to believe that gratitude will lead to the manifestation of things to be grateful for, not just the other way around.

I have learned that this is how life works. We get to choose our experience. When we think of ourselves as powerless, we will experience powerlessness. When we think that our happiness and joy and gratitude are dictated by our external circumstances, we get a very mixed bag, if not an altogether downward spiral. We think life is full of ups and downs; having no idea there could be another way, we believe in the ups and downs. In other words, we put more stock in what we see happening (the effects) than in our power to change what we see happening. Is it any wonder that life is such a struggle, when to varying degrees we think of ourselves as victims in some necessarily inescapable way?

But when we catch a glimpse of who we truly are (magnificent creators being created in the imagination of God!) and own the responsibility that comes with our identity, we start paying more attention to our thoughts and feelings. “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5) We cultivate an unshakeable faith:

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
    of whom shall I be afraid?

I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.
(Psalm 27:1, 13-14)

“Hallelujah,” then, is a choice, not just a response. One of my favorite evangelical praise songs is “Blessed be your name,” which affirms this choice no matter what the circumstances:

Blessed be your name
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s all as it should be
Blessed be your name

Blessed be your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be your name

Songs like this are what got me through my depression—when my own belief in the goodness of God was at its shakiest (still very much faith instead of knowledge). Having emerged on the other side, I am so grateful! I now proclaim it aloud: Hallelujah!